(Don’t) Keep your eyes on the road


(Photo by Forrest Rhinehart)

Sometimes you just need to roll the windows all the way down, blast some music, and drive. Luckily, the Wasatch is the perfect place for that. You can hop in your car and catch some beautiful scenery out of your window in a short distance. Here’s my roundup of the best places to put the pedal to the metal.

Big Cottonwood Canyon

Distance: 15 miles to the top of the canyon

If you have ever spent anytime in the Wasatch, you have likely journeyed up Big Cottonwood Canyon. It is only a 25-minute drive from Salt Lake City to the mouth of the canyon. From Salt Lake, exit I-215 at 6200 South and follow signs for Brighton and Solitude ski areas. Though you may say that you have seen it a million times, every season — or every day for that matter — the canyon will morph into something entirely different. Even if you don’t feel like embarking on any hikes, there are plenty of places to stop off on the side of the road to admire the sweeping cliffs. You may even catch a glimpse of some brave climbers scaling the walls.

If you feel like going for a short nature walk, consider checking out Donut Falls. It’s a short hike on flat ground, making it a great way to take in the scenery and stretch your legs. The canyon is steep and winds all the way up with some pretty harrowing hairpin turns. But don’t let the twisting road stop you from making it all the way. Brighton perches at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon and provides an awesome end point to your scenic drive. Pack a lunch and take it all in.

Little Cottonwood Canyon

Distance: 7-mile scenic byway

Little Cottonwood Canyon is a drive you shouldn’t miss. From Salt Lake City, exit I-215 at 6200 South and follow the signs for Snowbird and Alta. The canyon truly does present you with the best the Wasatch has to offer, even without leaving your car. Unlike Big Cottonwood Canyon, Little Cottonwood Canyon is less narrow and winding and more expansive, though still plenty steep. There is lots to do and see on your drive up the canyon with wilderness areas flanking either side of the road.

You can also stop off at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort to walk around or take advantage of the swanky amenities at The Cliff Lodge. When you reach the top of the canyon, you will end up in Alta, which boasts amazing wildflowers in late summer, vibrant fall colors and a skier’s paradise in winter. Once at the top, you can gaze at the riveting view down the canyon.

Salt Lake To Park City Via I-80

Distance: 30 miles, one-way

The drive on I-80 from Salt Lake City to Park City is scenic and straightforward. If you like to cruise at high speeds on the open road, then this is the Wasatch scenic drive for you. Try using the right lane to slow down a little and enjoy the scenery. The towering mountainsides, covered in forest, give you breathtaking views from every angle.

The drive is fairly steep until you roll over the top of Parley’s Summit. Once you are over the summit you begin to coast down toward Park City, which is a great place to explore at the end of your drive. The city is not only home to great restaurants and stores but is also surrounded by some incredibly scenic Wasatch terrain.

Guardsman Pass Scenic Backway from Park City to Wasatch Mountain State Park

Distance: 15 miles, one-way

If you are in the mood to escape the masses on the main roads and get onto something a bit more rugged and secluded, look no further than the Guardsman Pass Scenic Backway. Once you are in Park City it is only 2.7 miles to the Guardsman Pass road. There are multiple directions in which you can head, but one of the best is the branch that takes you over to Wasatch Mountain State Park near Midway, Utah.

The road is a bit rough in places and ranges from paved to gravelly to washboard, but it is definitely doable without four-wheel drive. Just be aware that heavy rain and other weather conditions can make the road a bit treacherous. The route passes by meadows, aspen groves, and towering evergreens. This drive is especially spectacular in the fall when the colors are at their peak.

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